Experts said children who act out sexually with other kids have often been exposed to domestic violence and pornography. Kids as young as 8 — the age the witness said Zimmerman was when he first touched her inappropriately — are generally not considered sex offenders, and would be referred to get therapeutic help.
“If a child was coerced or forced or intimidated or manipulated by an older child, in that sense they are being victimized,” said Dr. Jill Levenson, a Lynn University expert in sex abuse. “Eight is pretty young to be initiating sexual activity. You’re talking about more than, ‘Can I see it?’ So the questions become: Where did the 8-year-old learn that, and does that 8-year-old need some help?”
She stressed that she has no knowledge of Zimmerman’s case and was speaking in general terms.
Former Miami-Dade prosecutor Trudy Novicki, who now runs Kristi House, a center for abuse victims, said experts find that children who are sexually abused by another child are no less traumatized than adults who are abused by adults.
To determine whether something would be considered sexual abuse, law enforcement would consider not just the offender’s age, but the age difference between the two kids, she said.
“As the relationship is ongoing, then you’re talking about a teenage boy and a 12-year-old girl,” she said. “That’s getting to be the crossing-the-line area. I’m wondering what that kid has become all these years. That’s a pretty odd kid.”
The experts agreed that children in such situations often don’t tell anyone about it.
Witness 9 said she once tried telling her family, but the vague words she used apparently went over everyone’s head. In 2005, when she was 20, she told her sister, and her sister told their parents.
Her parents had a meeting with Zimmerman at a restaurant. “He sat down at the end of the booth, said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and got up and walked out,” witness 9 said. After that, Zimmerman was never invited to joint family functions.
She never went to the police, she said, because her mother told her that cases like hers become “he said/she said,” and are dropped. Zimmerman’s parents “pushed it under the rug and pretended it never happened,” she said.
Why then, investigators asked, was she coming forward now?
“It’s the first time in my life I’m not afraid of him,” she said. “I know nothing can get to me. He can’t get to me. I won’t go to Target and see him there anymore.”
Arguing that the allegation was irrelevant to the murder charge, O’Mara, appeared at two hearings before Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester in an bid to seal the witness’ statement. Lester twice ruled against him.
O’Mara filed a motion Monday morning to put a stop to the judge’s ruling just minutes before the statement’s scheduled release. Absent an order from the court to hold off, the Duval County state attorney, who has charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the killing of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin, released the statement, along with audio of more than 100 telephone calls Zimmerman made from jail.
The judge said in his ruling that nothing in Florida’s public-records law allows for such information to be kept secret. By law, evidence the prosecution turns over to the defense — called “discovery” — is public record. There are exceptions for things such as telecommunications records and confessions.